Phantom mortgage MP to leave Commons at election

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Indy Politics

The MP for Wirral South, Ben Chapman, last night became the first Labour MP to announce that he would stand down as a result of the scandal over parliamentary expenses.

Mr Chapman, who allegedly claimed £15,000 for a "phantom mortgage", will leave the Commons at the next general election.

He said he did not want to inflict further damage on his local Labour Party in his marginal seat but insisted he had done nothing wrong: "The pressure is too great. I may be able to withstand it, but my family should not have to." Mr Chapman, 68, has not been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party but he has been asked by the Government Chief Whip, Nick Brown, to explain why he apparently continued to claim the same amount of mortgage interest after his payments dropped, from £1,900 to £400 a month, when he paid £295,000 off the loan on his London home. He blamed the Commons Fees Office for misleading him about the arrangement.

Mr Chapman said: "I maintain that I have done nothing wrong and have acted in good faith and with absolute transparency throughout. The House of Commons Fees Office have expressed their apologies and regret that the advice they gave me was incorrect. But the publicity in The Daily Telegraph, and subsequently elsewhere, has been hurtful to my family, friends and local party members and supporters, and I have therefore decided to stand down at the next general election."

Gordon Brown defended the cabinet ministers James Purnell and Geoff Hoon, saying there was "no problem" with the arrangements under which they did not pay capital gains tax (CGT) on second homes. The Prime Minister faced accusations of "double standards" because he criticised the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears' failure to pay CGT on her second home as "totally unacceptable". She has now repaid more than £13,000 and apologised. But Mr Brown said the cases of Mr Hoon and Mr Purnell were different because the tax authorities considered the properties to be their main residences even though they had been designated second homes to claim Commons expenses.

Downing Street said the Transport Secretary Mr Hoon and Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Purnell had stuck to the "letter of the law". Mr Purnell says HM Revenue & Customs assured him he was not liable for CGT as he was selling the only home he owned, while Mr Hoon said he had been "assiduous" in ensuring he met his tax liabilities.